Usman Haque

In the last year or so I’ve become once again very interested in non-monetary economies (1) and, more specifically, in twisting prisoner’s dilemma (2) for useful and practical outcomes. This means I’ve been looking at cooperative systems and altruism (in an economic sense (3)) and how offering the option to be non-altruistic has, anecdotally, often seemed to be more successful in encouraging altruistic behaviour than systems in which the only other option is to *opt out*. Our consumption (and creation) of energy is of course particularly poignant in these kinds of system.

More specifically, with respect to conversations and ‘debate’ around climate change and the environmental crisis, I’ve become particularly interested in how members of the public can themselves contribute to the evidence gathering process; how people can convince themselves of what’s going on, so that they don’t have to rely on merely selecting which authority figure (scientist, religious leader, politician) to believe — they all disagree on major and minor points anyway. I want to find ways to encourage people to learn to question the standards of evidence that are thrust upon them. When authoritative sources cannot be trusted, then citizen-led data acquisition/collection/creation/crafting is the only means of making sense of a situation.(4)

This kind of engagement is vital for us (i.e. humanity) to make sense of our situation, and is essential if any solutions are to be found — Science (note the capital letter) is not the only arbiter of truth, nor is it the only framework for empirical analysis. We are all — scientists, non-scientists, artists, non-artists (much as I hate those false-dichotomies – but I think that covers everybody, right?) — in it together. (5)

The point is that there is no easy solution. We (designers, architects, and other pseudo-experts) have got to stop trying to sell people the idea that there are simple and obvious ways to deal with the kinds of complex systems that govern both our social and environmental lives. These things are *not* simple and obvious. If we say they are, then we imply that people who don’t do them are stupid — which is clearly not the case.

It is often said that it is the task of designers to “make things simple for people” – which I find patronising and counter-productive. If anything it is the task of designers to show how *complex* things are, and to help build tools for dealing with that complexity… *not* just simplifying it (which is the basic function of the perceptual systems we are endowed with, so it’s definitely possible!).

This approach has manifested itself in a few recent projects which give clues as to how these vague and abstract notions turn into actual projects (6). As it happens though, most of the projects are not yet published online because we’re a little too busy developing them…..

What has this got to do with architecture? Well, like all my previous work it has to do with the way we relate to each other, and the way we relate to the spaces around us – and that for me is exactly what architecture is about.


(1) In the mid-nineties I co-founded an online currency portal called the Global Village Bank, that was meant to operate outside of conventional monetary systems. Unsurprisingly, (uh… due to timing?), it went nowhere.



(4) Part of the reason why I launched

(5) Many of the thoughts expressed here have clearly been subtly (and unsubtly) influenced by conversations with Natalie Jeremijenko –

(6) For example Natural Fuse: